LIVE WRONG AND PROSPER by Ashley Comeau, Jason DeRosse, Nigel Downer, Alastair Forbes, Inessa Frantowski and Carly Heffernan, directed by Chris Earle. At the Second City (51 Mercer). Limited run. $24-$29. 416-343-0011. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Director Chris Earle's last Second City mainstage show - 2010's record-smashing Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes - was one of their best ever. His new revue doesn't quite match the satiric perfection of that show, but it comes close.
Partly, this has to do with the times. Wicked Awesome arrived right after the G20 protests, when lots of anger was percolating beneath the city's surface. There's still anxiety - witness the opening montage, where the six writer/performers rant about their wants (Jason DeRosse's "I want a new mayor" understandably got a big response on opening night) - but things aren't at the breaking point yet.
The political humour, two Rob Ford jokes aside, is generally pretty subtle this time around. In one of the strongest sketches, a son (DeRosse) uses attack ads to shoot down his father's (Alastair Forbes) suggestions during a family discussion about where to go for summer vacation. Obviously, he's been following the nasty goings-on in the U.S.
And in the high-energy first act closer, the economic crisis gets skewered in a sketch that sees members of the EU participating in an addiction support group. "It's been six days since my last bailout," says one sheepish member. The cultural stereotyping here - from Ashley Comeau's black-clad Greek matron to Forbes's stiff German - is broad but fun.
The sketch with the bitterest aftertaste, however, concerns a pair of cops (Inessa Frantowski and Carly Heffernan) who walk among the audience, bragging that under proposed Bill C-30 they could invade our privacy. It's a beautifully written sketch that employs absurdity - including Heffernan serenading someone and Frantowski wanting to re-enact a scene from the movie Dirty Dancing - without losing its sinister edge.
Social media get sent up in two LOL-worthy sketches, the first about a couple (Forbes and Heffernan) who want to capture their child's birth on Twitter, complete with ridiculous hashtags and Twitpics, the second about a group of women who try unsuccessfully to shut down their recently deceased friend's Facebook account.
And for pop culture satire, it'd be hard to top the brilliant improvised spin on reality shows. Heffernan plays a jaded TV exec and Forbes pitches various pilots to her. On opening night, this included Macramé With The Stars, pitting Comeau's Celine Dion against DeRosse's John Travolta. The slo-mo replay got one of the night's biggest laughs.
I also liked two sketches that sent up the ridiculous things found in women's magazines vs. men's magazines. Unfortunately, it's easier to make fun of women's mags than men's.
Among the cast, Heffernan stands out as a number of high-strung types, including a clown who's questioning her career choices. Frantowski makes an art of physical awkwardness, especially in a scene where she unsuccessfully tries to join an orgy.
But for sheer balls, this revue belongs to DeRosse, who bares almost everything to get laughs as a man who thinks he's getting into some kinky action but instead finds himself thrown out into the audience, where he has to rely on the kindness of strangers to restore his dignity.
You won't be able to look at a can of whipped cream the same way again.